‘We can’t play scared’: Will lessons learned in TCU loss help BYU two weeks later at No. 7 Texas?

Texas head coach (and former BYU QB) Steve Sarkisian, center, waits to take the field with his team before a game against Kansas, in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. BYU returns to Austin Saturday to face the Longhorns in a Big 12 showdown.

AUSTIN, Texas — There’s a laundry list of things Big 12 newcomer BYU must do here Saturday to just stay with No. 7 Texas in front of an expected crowd of more than 100,000 at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, let alone try and upset the 6-1 Longhorns and ruin their College Football Playoff hopes before they head off to the SEC.

Take care of the football. Get the running game going. Give Kedon Slovis time to throw. Confuse and get some pressure on first-time Texas starter Maalik Murphy. Avoid another awful start, like last month against Kansas and two weeks ago against TCU, both losses.

“I can think of a lot of games where they didn’t expect us to win. We have been underdogs in a lot of games that we have won. Texas is a historic program, and such a good team. Top 10 in the nation. It is going to be a crazy challenge. We have to show that BYU belongs with the best of the best.” — BYU tight end Isaac Rex

Blah, blah, blah.

Then there’s BYU tight end Isaac Rex’s formula, one he says served the 5-2 Cougars well in the 38-31 win over Arkansas on Sept. 16 and big wins over Power Five opponents such as Wisconsin, Tennessee and USC when BYU was an independent playing with nothing to lose.

“We can’t play scared,” Rex said. “We have to come out firing from the very beginning. I feel like at TCU (a 44-11 loss) we just came out way too flat, and that was just the end of it.”

Through the years, BYU has been known as a mature, measured team that doesn’t get easily rattled in hostile environments and has a reputation for pulling out wins when they are least expected, Rex continued, and what better time than now to build upon that legacy?

BYU is close to a three-touchdown underdog, the line having gone from 20.5 to 17.5 and then back up to the 20-point range.

Games like this “are so much fun,” Rex said. “I can think of a lot of games where they didn’t expect us to win. We have been underdogs in a lot of games that we have won. Texas is a historic program, and such a good team. Top 10 in the nation. It is going to be a crazy challenge. We have to show that BYU belongs with the best of the best.”

But first things first. The Cougars simply have to play better than they have all season against what is easily the best team they will have faced, the biggest mountain they will have been asked to climb, since last year at Oregon.

And everyone knows what happened at Autzen. Coming off a thrilling 26-20 double-overtime win over No. 9, but hugely overrated, Baylor, the Cougars were drubbed 41-20 by the Ducks.


“This (season) is no joke,” Rex said. “Week in and week out, you are playing the best of the best that can compete with anyone. … You better be on your ‘A’ game every week because people are coming to play. It is tough sledding and BYU is the new guy in town so we gotta be ready to roll every single game.”

He was referring to the debacle at TCU, where BYU clearly wasn’t ready, for whatever reason.

Did the Cougars learn anything at Amon G. Carter Stadium, which actually isn’t that hostile or unfriendly, relatively speaking, that can help them Saturday when many more eyeballs will be upon them?

Linebacker AJ Vongphachanh, the Utah State transfer, says they can, and will.

“This is why I came here, to play in games like this. It is why most of the guys came here, for that opportunity,” he said. “At the end of the day, execution is what really matters. We learned that (at TCU). We have to play our best ball. This is a perfect week to do so.”

There’s no question that Texas is the more talented team, loaded with four-and five-star recruits and coached by one of the best in the business, former BYU QB Steve Sarkisian (in case you haven’t heard). Normally, a team using a first-time starter would be at a big disadvantage, but the 6-foot-5, 238-pound Murphy is not your typical backup QB. He would be starting at 75% of the other schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

For the Cougars to compete, BYU’s QB, Kedon Slovis, has to play the game of his life, much as now-New Orleans Saints utility player Taysom Hill did in BYU wins over Texas in 2013 and 2014, wins that helped BYU build a 4-1 lead in the series.

“Again, there is a reason I am here. I believe in the guys in the room, the building. I think we have really good players,” Slovis said. “They have really good players, too. We are going to have to elevate our talent and play really well. But if we execute what we can do, it gives us a chance.”

Speaking of talent, and an edge that Texas will have that doesn’t bode well for BYU, Cougars offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said several times this week that Texas has the best defensive line he’s seen in 24 years as a coach.


“They are two-deep at every position,” Roderick said. “It is going to be a challenge, for sure. We are going to have to execute at a high level to have a chance to win.”

BYU could also be facing the best running back it has seen in 2023, which is saying something since Kansas featured Devin Neal, TCU had Emani Bailey and Texas Tech had Tahj Brooks. Texas sophomore Jonathon Brooks is averaging 6.45 yards per carry and 117.86 yards per game, ranking him No. 4 in the country in the latter category.

Cougars on the air

BYU (2-2, 5-2)
at No. 8 Texas (3-1, 6-1)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium
(Capacity: 100,119)
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

“We have our work cut out for us,” said BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill. “They are (still) as talented as the team that went and beat Alabama and is a top 10 team in the country. I love the challenge.”

Bottom line is that head coach Kalani Sitake hasn’t had to say or do anything to rally the troops ahead of a late-October game, as was often the case in past years.

“We have a good, mature group that loves football, and I love coaching them. And so we will need them,” Sitake said. “Whatever the motivations will be, it is not like I have to come up with the ideas to leverage it.”

BYU Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake celebrates after an interception against Texas Tech on Oct. 21, 2023. BYU won 27-14.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake celebrates after an interception against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. BYU won 27-14. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News